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"In a one horse open sleigh" – that’s right. The owner's too cheap to buy two horses.
"O'er the fields we go, laughing all the way." Laughing? Who's laughing? I’m not laughing.
This brilliant interior monologue (from the horse, of course) was one of the first ones I wrote for a specific audience. When my seventh-grade English class laughed, a writer was born – or so I thought.
From this humble beginning, I spread my writing wings and came up with many brilliant opuses during my high school career. Many of my fellow classmates were more than happy for me to do the writing when we did a creative project. They got their As and I got my brief moments of fame.
It wasn't until college that I determined I would be a writer – I mean, like actually doing it for a living. I decided to write my first best-selling novel when I was 20 and then spend the rest of my life in a den wearing a smoking jacket and peacefully puffing on my pipe. But first, I had to win the writing contest sponsored by the college literary magazine. My motivation was simple: money. As a nearly-starving, 30-pounds-overweight college student, I knew I could take the first place honour and the ten dollar cash prize that went with it.
I wrote this brilliant story about a psycho who completely loses his mind, goes to a window, and starts shooting up the campus. I endured my first rejection – one of the few I've had over the years that came with a personal comment (I knew the editor) – which said that the ending was predictable.
A year later, I wrote my first brilliantly received love poem. "Arrow eyes, piercing brown, releasing soft gazes so very kind, see through my shield and I become a clown. Am I a toy to be tossed aside like paper drenched in rain?" Please stifle your gag reflex as I will spare you the next line, which as you might guess, ended with pain (literally and figuratively).
It wasn't until four years later, while I was working on my fourth potentially best-selling novel, that I got published again – my first official literary magazine publication. We lived in the country and one night when I sat on our back porch – definitely not in a den – smoking a cigarette – definitely not a Meerschaum pipe, I actually experienced my first purely inspirational moment. Wow!
I heard a coyote off in the woods. This experience inspired a haiku that was published in Dragonfly Quarterly. Well, somewhere near 20 years later, I still haven't written my best-selling novel and I still haven't quit my day job. However, I can honestly say that I am a writer. I haven't necessarily changed a lot, but my definition of writing and my understanding of my role as a writer have.
I did everything wrong as a beginning writer. First, my motivation. For years, I wrote thinking that I would get rich. The truth is that not many writers get rich from their work. If money is your sole motivation for writing, you will be deeply disappointed. The reason why I haven’t given up hope on my writing is that I have finally discovered the real reasons I write: because I love it, because I can’t not write, because I can be a god creating my own world – I could go on, but I'll stop right there.
For years, I tried every kind of writing in my attempts to strike it rich. I wrote in genres I didn't even like to read because I thought my chances of making money were greater. When I realized how wrong I was, I felt a deep pang of remorse over the years I wasted writing what I did not like for all the wrong reasons.
The last five years I have done a lot of soul-searching. (I encourage all of you to do the same.) Slowly, my goals came into focus. I gave up the idea of writing whatever I thought might make money and started writing what I liked to write. First, came drama. I directed plays, I acted in college. I liked the stage. My first breakthrough came when I decided to write a play. One of my short plays got a staged reading by a theatre group in Prairie Village, Kansas. I cannot even begin to describe the thrill I received from that, so I began to write plays.
I loved movies and taught film. When I learned about a publisher who developed study guides for movies, I queried them and later sold two movie guides. For as long as I can remember, I have taught Sunday school. I sent material to a devotional magazine my Sunday school class used and made sales there. I found a religious publisher who developed study guides for movies. I queried them. Even though they no longer did study guides, they did happen to need someone to write youth Sunday school materials. I wrote material for them.
When I taught a freshman novels class for a high school, I realized how much I loved children's literature, a love that was even more enflamed by the Harry Potter phenomenon. I read The Giver and Harris and Me and realized that some of the most influential literature of today was written for the population that could still be influenced: children. I remembered my own favourite novels when I was a child. James and the Giant Peach, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, David and the Phoenix, the Hardy Boys, and so many others.
The one miracle about writing is that it is never too late to do it. The last four or five years, my writing goals have come into focus, and I am doing everything I can to meet them. I am writing for children. My re-education in creative writing has begun. Even though I sold one children’s novel and have two more coming out this year, I realized I still have much to learn about writing for children. Last year, I enrolled in the Children’s Literature Institute so that I could hone my writing skills.
I want to write novels that influence children even if I don't become another J.K. Rowling. What’s important is doing what I want to do. I can’t say whether I will ever quit my day job or not, but I can say, I will never quit writing.
I may not be laughing all the way to the bank, but I’ll always have joy in my heart. I know that sounds cheesy but if you're reading this, you’re probably a writer and you know exactly what I’m talking about.
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